Ireland's nine billionaires saw their collective fortunes rise by €3.28 billion last year despite the deepest global recession in decades, Oxfam has highlighted in a report ahead of the World Economic Forum's virtual Davos Agenda event.
One-tenth of the additional wealth (€300 million) would pay for a Covid-19 vaccine for every person in the Republic, the aid agency said.
It said the Irish figures mirrored a worrying trend internationally towards greater inequality, one that has accelerated in the last decade and was likely to get worse under Covid.
It said the world’s 1,000 richest people had recouped their Covid-19 losses within just nine months, while it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover economically from the pandemic.
One of the most extreme indicators of inequality right now, Oxfam said, “was between those who have access to a life-saving vaccine and those who don’t”.
It said people across the globe were pinning their hopes on vaccines to put an end to the pandemic, but there is a risk that effective vaccines will be monopolised by rich and powerful countries.
Half the supply
A small group of rich nations, representing just 14 per cent of the world’s population, had bought up more than half the supply of leading Covid-19 vaccines, it said.
Oxfam's The Inequality Virus report was published to coincide with the opening day of the 51st forum, normally held in the Swiss Alpine town of Davos, but which is taking place online this year because of the restrictions around travel.
Organisers are expecting leaders including Chinese president Xi Jinping, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, German chancellor Angela Merkel and South African president Cyril Ramaphosa to attend the virtual gathering.
Forum founder Klaus Schwab said the aim of the virtual Davos Agenda this week was to restore trust and engage all stakeholders in business, government, civil society and beyond to help build a "more peaceful and prosperous post-corona era".
Oxfam’s report said Covid-19 has the potential to increase economic inequality in almost every country at once, the first time this has happened since records began over a century ago.
"Rigged economies are funnelling wealth to a rich elite who are riding out the pandemic in safety, while those on the frontline – our shop assistants, healthcare workers and factory workers – are struggling to pay the bills and put food on the table, and often do not have benefits such as paid sick leave," Jim Clarken, chief executive of Oxfam Ireland, said.
“We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began, with the deep divide between the rich and poor proving as deadly as the virus itself,” he said.
“Rising inequality means it could take at least 14 times longer for the number of people living in poverty to return to pre-pandemic levels than it took for the fortunes of the top 1,000, mostly white male billionaires, to bounce back,” he said.
“In Ireland, the fallout of the pandemic on employment has disproportionately hit young adults as well as people in low-paid occupations, all of whom are more likely to be paying rent,” he said.
“Without significant government intervention, we are looking at a return to long-term unemployment, increasing risks of homelessness and economic insecurity for younger generations in Ireland,” Mr Clarken said.